The New Viceroys
Friday, March 21, 2008 at 12:07 pm
In 2003, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest wrote a book called The Mission that featured a crucial insight. American military commanders who had no diplomatic training were the preferred interlocutors for foreign power-players. Americans, always slow to grasp the consequences of the imperial drift in their foreign policy, didn’t understand that the military’s Latin America commander was more important than any ambassador or State Department vizier. But foreigners did. Thus did Pervez Musharraf, after his 1999 coup in Pakistan, ask to speak first with “Tony” — U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the chief of U.S. Central Command.
Zinni and his colleagues, however, were four-star flag officers, men in their 50s and 60s. They had been division commanders, corps commanders and fleet admirals. After five years of warfare in the desert, the torch has been passed far downward. The new viceroys in Iraq — the men and women who broker relationships with Iraqi tribes and officials — are in their late 20s and 30s, and they command companies and battalions.
The New York Times today features an excellent view into the new imperial reality:
During the war in Iraq, young Army and Marine captains have become American viceroys, officers with large sectors to run and near-autonomy to do it. In military parlance, they are the “ground-owners.” In practice, they are power brokers.
“They give us a chunk of land and say, ‘Fix it,’ ” said Capt. Rich Thompson, 36, who controls an area east of Baghdad.
The Iraqis have learned that these captains, many still in their 20s, can call down devastating American firepower one day and approve multimillion-dollar projects the next. Some have become celebrities in their sectors, men whose names are known even to children.
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